At the recent Student Nursing Times Awards event I had the fortune of meeting many student and registered nurses.
We discussed everything about nursing including our education and personal experiences and it was certainly fascinating. However, from these conversations, I did become aware of a pertinent issue: the guilt felt by some parents who are currently studying or working as a nurse.
I spoke to parents who are distressed, sad and feel incredible guilt about having to leave their children to go to university, placement or work. Of course, the profession of nursing is not an easy one; it does include long hours away from family coupled with fatigue that can limit one’s capacity to live one’s desired family life.
Parents are feeling guilty that they don’t have enough time to spend with their children or their partner or just by themselves in order to recuperate enough to have the patience and tolerance that they used to.
Children are experts at making parents feel guilty, even if it is not intentional. Whether tears are real or just the crocodile version, it would seem their impact on a tired nursing student can be huge. I’ve even known some students to quit over the guilt they felt when their child asked them questions such as why they weren’t around much anymore.
But how much do children remember this when they grow up?
I’m not a parent, but I have been the child of a parent who was studying nursing (followed by occupational therapy) so I can at least give my perspective from that side.
I was eight years old when my mum went back to studying; my siblings were ten, nine and five. My Dad was in the RAF. My parents were dependent on childcare, which is of course expensive and not quite the same as having your parents around. I know Mum felt incredibly guilty; she tells us stories now of how we cried and complained that we hated our babysitter. She said she often wanted to cry when she left us, and we probably did give her a hard time when she had to go. But do you know what? I don’t remember it and neither do my brothers or sister.
Years of studying for my mum, with my dad equally busy, and I do not have one single memory of them being away, of feeling abandoned or sad.
Do you know what I do remember? Them coming back. I remember mum being happy when she returned home from her studies. I remember seeing paperwork and folders and mum typing furiously on the computer, but I don’t remember the stress she experienced or any negative impact on our family. I remember her celebrating by treating us all when she received her assignment results, and my dad being proud. As a child you remember being continually appreciated much more than you remember any short-term abandonment, surely?
To all nurses and student nurses who are feeling guilty; please don’t. Children remember their best moments and worst, and I would suggest their worst moments are not their mum or dad being a tad busy and stressed out. Be around when you can, but most importantly be present when you are there. Work hard in your time as a student or nurse so you can allot any time with your children to purely being with them. My parents being dedicated, alert and present when they were around is what I remember. Guilt will negatively impact upon that, so please don’t let it take over. Be proud of yourself and your ability to balance so much responsibility, and remember that this small pocket of time is nothing compared to the lifetime of love you give to your children and their love for you.
Lucy Cleden-Radford is Student Nursing Times’ learning disability branch student editor